Monday morning, entertainment trade magazine the Hollywood Reporter broke the news of an upcoming reality show, Blood, Sweat & Heels, which will debut on Bravo on Jan. 5. Since taping began in the spring, I’d been biting my tongue for months, alternately excited to reveal the news to my readers and, to be honest, afraid of what the reaction would be.
There’s no sense in beating around the clichéd bush: There are a lot of people who don’t think highly of reality TV or reality-TV stars, especially when there are black women involved. The women are all thought to be exploited or selling their souls, either searching for a quick come-up or in a desperate hunt for what Andy Warhol called “15 minutes of fame.”
I’ve been highly critical in my writing of the fighting, the bottle throwing and, in general, the bad behavior by women and men who have been depicted under the guise of entertainment. And yet I signed on to participate in a reality show anyway.
It’s not for the money. The salary for a starting season isn’t a number most would find impressive. And while there’s an opportunity to make some coin, most people don’t, and an uncommon number even lose all that they gain. Earlier this year the Huffington Post looked at the number of women with money problems among the 67 in Bravo’s Real Housewives franchise, and found that a startling 12 had filed for bankruptcy. My lawyer conveniently sent me a link to that story just before I signed my contract for the show. I still signed the contract.
I began blogging in 2006 because I couldn’t find a “character” like me on TV or in media, period. It had been years since Living Single went off the air, and as much as I loved Tracee Ellis Ross in Girlfriends, I needed an East Coast girl to relate to. I was a huge fan of Sex and the City and wondered how, in all of New York City, where people of color outnumber white folks, there wasn’t a black woman or any woman of color on the show. Black shows always got a token white person; why didn’t this white show?
I wanted to see a black woman who treated her city like a social playground, who thrived in her profession or was at least climbing the ladder, who had her relationship ups and downs as I did (and do) but still managed to have fun and remain optimistic. Black women were too often portrayed as tragic, excessively struggling, loving the wrong men hard and getting bitter as a result. That’s a story of black women, but it isn’t the only story, and it wasn’t my story or the story of the women I surrounded myself with. I was complaining that there were no women like me in media, until I stopped whining and started typing.
My blog was published on HoneyMag.com in 2007 and was immediately successful. Apparently, there were a lot of women like me, looking for someone like them. Who knew? The popularity of that blog led me to a position as the relationships editor at Essence magazine in 2007, where I eventually landed my own column about dating and relationships, which earned an award for Best Personal Blog in 2010. Then I earned a book deal based on my blog in 2011.
I’m told that a casting director of Blood, Sweat & Heels found me when she Googled “the Black Carrie Bradshaw,” a phrase that was used to describe me when the Washington Post did a profile about my blog and dating adventures in 2010. The producers originally conceived the show as a black Sex and the City, and I was a fit. When my manager told me about the show, the first thing I said was something like, “I’m not the black version of a white fictional TV character. I’m me. They have to want that.”
That wasn’t the first time a reality casting director had expressed interest in me. Before Bravo, I’d been approached about two other shows that I flatly turned down. Without giving details and exposing intellectual property, I’ll say the premise just seemed messy and I wanted no part of it. Blood, Sweat & Heels was pitched to me as a show about professional women in New York and how they make it here. The emphasis on the professional was intriguing, but I was still very skeptical, even as I began the arduous interview process.
I became more comfortable when I finally met my potential cast mates. I knew most of them and had heard good things about those I knew only in passing. I liked that they, like me, were accomplished women with their own brands. To be frank, it meant they had a lot to lose if they got on TV and acted a plumb fool. I figured if I signed on, things could only get but so bad.
There were many times during taping that I regretted being a part of the process. Being in front of a camera and knowing that the images will be broadcast to millions of people is nerve-wracking in a way that you have to go through to fully understand.
I know when a scene is broadcast that every action will be overly scrutinized. A bad fashion choice could become an Internet meme. One heated disagreement could launch a thousand blog posts about the representation of black women in media. I found myself alternately walking on eggshells, then getting stressed out from doing so and throwing caution to the wind and just being me—good and bad.
The best advice I received was to not hop on anyone (or attempt to) or throw anything (or attempt to); there was redemption for almost everything else. I listened. I was also told to remember that I needed to earn a living after reality TV, and that wouldn’t be easy if I lost my natural mind in front of the cameras. That helped me hold it together when I felt like losing it.
I haven’t seen footage from the show yet, so I can’t say for certain whether it’s something I’ll be proud of—or not. But I am proud of taking a risk and sticking true to the reason I started my blog: representing—from blogs to magazines to books, and now TV—for women like me who have been too long overlooked.
Demetria L. Lucas is a contributing editor at The Root, a life coach and the author of the upcoming book Don’t Waste Your Pretty: The Go-to Guide for Making Smarter Decisions in Life & Love.